This was inspired by a post on Joel Comm’s blog.
Eliminating gluten from my diet has resulted in weight loss, better breathing, better digestion, clearer skin, and a significant hike in energy. My prescription drug needs reduced as a result too, saving money.
I’m not a wheat or gluten expert, so this post is written solely from personal experience, but that experience has been profound. I’m writing this so that it might inspire some of you to investigate the underlying causes of some of your health issues.
I’ve been fit most of my life, so I’ve never consciously dieted, however, I have made some big changes over the years in quantity and quality of meals. As a life-long cyclist, I learned to graze throughout the day instead of sitting down for large meals. I find it far more effective to eat about six smaller meals per day instead of the standard three. Large meals tend to make me tired, and cause me to reach for the coffee or tea in order to get through the work day, whereas smaller meals keep me satisfied and energized throughout the day.
The two biggest quality changes I’ve made are the elimination of cereal and gluten from my menu.
Why cereal? I learned a few years ago that ingredients in boxed cereal are processed up to three or more times before they are packaged up. By the time the substances reach you, your body has no idea how to process them effectively, so you’re just eating empty calories, which leaves you hungry and wanting more, while overworking your digestive system. I lost 13 pounds without even trying after eliminating cereal from my diet. A few years later, a friend suggested I eliminate gluten from my diet.
Eliminating gluten was the second big change that made a huge impact on my overall health. My energy level skyrocketed and my digestion dramatically improved. When your digestion is good, virtually everything else improves. I had asthma before I stopped eating gluten; now it’s virtually gone. I used to get a bloated stomach after eating pasta or drinking a beer, but with rice pasta and sorghum beer, I’m happily bloat-free. (I disliked the taste of rice pasta at first, but now I far prefer it.)
(Sorghum beer, by the way, tastes every bit as good as an amber or bitter microbrew. Do I miss a porter or thick stout? Yeah, for sure, but the trade-off is well worth it. There are three sorghum beers available nationwide: New Grist, Bard’s, and Red Bridge (tastes more like a lager). There are also some Belgian gluten-free beers that are super stiff and good for getting tanked if you’re into that, but they’re too strong for my palette. Before I discovered sorghum beer, my stomach would visibly, uncomfortably stretch to epic proportions after a beer, and I felt awful, but sorghum beer goes down just as easily as fruit juice.)
The denial factor with wheat and gluten
When you’ve grown up eating wheat all of your life, the common reaction people have upon trying to eliminate gluten (wheat, oats, barley, rye) is that it’s virtually impossible. Wheat is the core ingredient in bread, pasta, and other regular staples of a human diet. When you start scrutinizing food labels, you find that wheat is in nearly everything. It’s even used as a stabilizing agent in sausage, vegetarian “meat” products, ice cream and ketchup.
So how do you avoid gluten? It’s really pretty simple. All you have to do is weigh the health benefits versus the pain-in-the-tail factor, then stop eating processed foods.
I eat mostly rice, fruits and vegetables. Add in soy yogurt, coconut milk, palm and olive oil, eggs, sunflower butter, and gluten-free bread, and that’s pretty much my daily diet. I can go out to eat, but I just have to be careful to ask about ingredients.
You are not a cow
Do you really need filler in your diet? Wheat is used as a filler agent in a majority of processed and packaged foods. It serves no practical purpose in most food recipes, except to add in some protein (which could easily be sourced from less offensive ingredients), so when I say filler agent, that is quite literally what it is. It fattens you up without providing nutritional value. Cows are fattened up to increase their heft before slaughter. Do you need more heft?
Wheat is a grass, one of the most common human allergens on the planet. So why would you want to eat it? Well, you wouldn’t, unless you were a cow. You’re not a cow are you? (I’ve yet to meet a cow who could read, so I’m guessing not.)
Gluten inhibits effective digestion
Gluten causes the villi in your intestinal tract to get knocked down, so that it lays flat. Why is this a problem? In order for your body to efficiently absorb nutrients, the villi need to be in their natural position, standing up, allowing nutrients to be absorbed and processed.
Wikipedia has this to say about how villi work: In all humans, the villi together increase intestinal absorptive surface area approximately 30-fold and 60-fold, respectively, providing exceptionally efficient absorption of nutrients in the lumen. This increases the surface area so there are more places for food to be absorbed.
The health problems gluten can cause
When the villi lie flat, nutrients cannot be effectively absorbed, which starves your body, resulting in you feeling hungry, which in turn results in you eating more food. It’s a vicious cycle that perpetually overworks your digestive system, resulting in weight gain, poor digestion, bowel issues, breathing problems, skin problems, sleep apnea, inflammation, and joint pain– OH MY! Yes, consumption of gluten truly can cause or be a contributing factor to all of these problems. It can also cause anaphylactic shock if you’re allergic.
Wheat and gluten are allergens
After I had completely eliminated gluten for about a year, I had a wheat-free, but apparently not gluten-free, porter beer one night, and my throat closed, confirming that I am indeed allergic to gluten. Be aware that when you eliminate an allergen from your diet, your sensitivity to it may increase.
To complicate things just a bit, there are different classes of allergies, including wheat allergy, gluten allergy, celiac disease, and others. I first tried eliminating just wheat, and I saw some improvement, but when I completely eliminated gluten, I experienced far more overall health improvement.
I happened to be endowed with a plethora of other food allergies, including all nuts, apple and pear pectin, raw carrots, and tomatoes, so crafting a diet was that much more complicated, but again, the health benefits far outweigh any perceived PITA factor.
Here are some helpful resources for eliminating gluten from your diet:
EatingWell: Should You Go Gluten-Free?
Livestrong: How to Go Gluten Free
EverydayHealth: How to Go Gluten-Free
Wikipedia’s Gluten-Free diet page
GlutenFreeLiving: How To Get Started
GlutenFreeGoddess: Cooking Gluten-Free